All posts by Alyssia

About Alyssia

Alyssia is an Adult Services Librarian at the Vaughan Public Libraries. Nothing makes her happier than a great book and a great cup of coffee. She loves fiction in all formats - books, movies, television, you name it - and is always on the lookout for awesome new music.  |  Meet the team

Reading Challenge 2024: Kickstart Your Reading!

reading challenge bingo card

Check out the VPL Reading Challenge 2024! January’s challenge is: Read a book with a year in the title.

It’s New Years resolutions time! Are you hoping to read more this year? We’ve got you covered! Our Reading Challenge is back for 2024, and we’re bringing you a fresh batch of challenges to inspire your year-long reading journey—one challenge for every month. Each month, our knowledgeable library staff will put together themed reading lists based on the monthly challenge. You’re not limited to books on these lists, however; they’re just meant to provide guidance and spur ideas! Participants are encouraged to read widely—broaden your reading horizons! But most of all, remember to have fun with it. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new favourite book! 

To get started on this year’s challenge, download our handy Reading Log for your own personal records. Check out our Reading Challenge 2024 page for monthly updates and links to themed lists. And if you’re so inclined, you can follow along with the challenge on social media! We’d love to know what you’re reading, so feel free to share!  

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The Gilded Age: In My Period Drama Era

cover image for HBO's the gilded age

Lately the only thing I’ve been wanting to watch during my downtime is period dramas. Something about the coziness of low-stakes drama fits with the coziness of the holiday season. I burned through Hotel Portofino on PBS Masterpiece; I dipped my toe into Apple TV’s (largely silly and CW-like) adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers. But the one that has really captured my attention is HBO’s The Gilded Age, whose second season is now airing.  

Created by the same guy that did Downton Abbey, The Gilded Age follows a similar upstairs-downstairs approach but moves the focus across the pond to 1880s New York. The drama follows Old New York society—big money, bigger dresses—as they are infiltrated by the audacious new money Russell family (based on the real-life Vanderbilts). Mrs. Russell is a scheming queen whose only goal is to secure a spot at the coveted Academy of Music opera house (and to marry her daughter off to the richest, most impressive man she can find). Mr. Russell is a robber baron, a ruthless railroad tycoon who will extort anyone and everyone in order to support his wife’s ambitions. Truly, they are the power couple to end all power couples. The drama, in comparison to other shows, is very low stakes and ridiculous (one of the climaxes concerns a character walking dramatically across the street), which is appropriate for a show whose namesake, coined by satirist Mark Twain, denotes a “period of gross materialism and blatant political corruption.” Edith Wharton’s famous Gilded Age-era novel The Age of Innocence is full of contempt for the Old New York families and their highly rigid, Anglophilic society (“gilded”, of course, refers to the thin sheet of gold that hides less glamorous material). Still, it makes for engrossing television! 

The show’s second season delves into more serious subject matter by tackling the plight of railway workers and their long fight towards unionization. After years of being subjected to horrendous (and dangerous) working conditions, the railway men take up the chant “Eight! Eight! Eight!” as they demand an eight-hour workday, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours of recreational time. It’s fascinating to watch the structure of our own modern lives be wrestled into shape by the hands of these working class men—a structure that has somewhat broken down in our technological age (how many of us take work home, or stay in the office past the allotted eight hours?), but one that we have been lucky to benefit from. (Jenny Odell’s insightful How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy discusses the formation of 19th century unions as an early form of protection against soul (and body) crushing capitalism). These workers placed themselves in the literal line of fire to advocate for change.  

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A Sofia Coppola Retrospective

The virgin suicides DVD cover

With Priscilla now out in theatres, I felt the urge to revisit director Sofia Coppola’s work. Coppola has been criticized copiously throughout her 25-year career, first as a nepo baby descending from directorial royalty (her father is Francis Ford Coppola), and second as prioritizing style over substance. My take? Being a nepo baby is fine if you acknowledge your privilege and (crucially) you are talented, and sometimes style is the substance. Or, more accurately, style reflects the substance. It takes skill to have your own visual style, and Coppola, as head Sad Girl of the cinematic world, has that in spades. She is also always reliable for a killer soundtrack, the songs not only exhibiting enduring cool-girl taste but selected for their ability to enhance a specific mood or theme. Priscilla is a continuation of Coppola’s dependable style and music choices, only missing Lana Del Rey, who styles herself after Priscilla Presley (reportedly Del Rey was approached for the soundtrack but turned it down. Too busy working shifts at Waffle House, I guess).  Below is a look back at Coppola’s most iconic work.

Coppola cemented her brand early with her 1999 directorial debut, an adaptation of the Jeffrey Eugenides novel The Virgin Suicides. It’s about as on-the-nose Sad Girl as Coppola gets, which makes sense owing to her youthful age at the time (28—which translates to about 12 in director years). The story follows a group of boys who reminisce about the enigmatic Lisbon sisters, who all die by suicide in the year 1975. The girls are young (teenagers), lithe, blonde, pretty, and incurably sad—Coppola trademarks. Her other trademarks are also fully-formed in this debut: a dreamy, hazy atmosphere combined with a controlled and even sparse sensibility, along with an impeccably curated soundtrack whose every song is deliberately used to evoke either Coppola’s dreamy style (such as the score by French dream pop/space pop band Air) or the film’s location in place and time (such as songs by Heart and Styx).  

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